The Nelson Mandela capture site
The last time I was here, some years ago now, it was just an insignificant, dusty little plaque beside the road. If you’d blinked, you would have missed it. Today, a powerful and poignant memorial marks the site where Nelson Mandela was arrested by armed apartheid police on August 5, 1962, after being on the run for 17 months, and so began his long walk into 27 years of captivity.
I’m beside the R103, a few kilometres from the little farming town of Howick in the Natal Midlands. It’s a fine winter’s day, and a light wind blows over the green hills of Zululand as I walk up the hill to where an exhibition in the small museum traces Madiba’s political path through the years. Old photographs, quotations from the man himself and his colleagues, line the walls. International visitors, and locals with small children, are making their way around the exhibits. But the best is still to come.
As I walk nearer and nearer to the sculpture – for that is what it is – Mandela’s face appears amazingly from the rods, becoming bigger and bigger the nearer I approach. It’s a remarkable sight.
As I come out of the museum, I begin to walk down a very long paved pathway that curves gently back towards the road. In the distance a group of 50 pointed steel column constructions, between 6 and 9m high, pierce the blue sky.
As I walk nearer and nearer to the sculpture – for that is what it is – Mandela’s face appears amazingly from the rods, becoming bigger and bigger the nearer I approach. It’s a remarkable sight. The 50 jagged, imposing, stark steel rods mark the 50 years since South Africa’s most wanted ‘criminal’ was captured. When you get to a distance of 35m, the artist, Marco Cianfanelli, has so designed the rods that each of the 50 linear vertical units lines up to create the illusion of a flat image.
When the memorial was unveiled in 2012, the artist interpreted his sculpture for us in this way. “The 50 columns represent the 50 years since his capture, but they also suggest the idea of many making the whole; of solidarity.”
Today, bunches of flowers and ‘get well Tata Madiba’ cards adorn the newer plaque beyond the rods. Even a grizzled German tourist, photographing the scene, puts down his camera to wipe a tear from his eye.